Many have made the case for the importance of focus in driving a top performing business.
But what does that actually means? What does focus actually looks like?
This 2-min bit from Keith Rabois’ talk at Sam Altman’s Startup Class answers that question beautifully:
This bit is short enough to transcribe it here fully:
“So I am going to argue that you need to spend a lot of time focusing on people. This is something I learned from Peter Thiel actually. He used to insist at PayPal that every single person could only do exactly one thing. And we all rebelled, every single person in the company rebelled to this idea. Because it’s so unnatural, it’s so different than other companies where people wanted to do multiple things, especially as you get more senior, you definitely want to do more things and you feel insulted to be asked to do just one thing.
Peter would enforce this pretty strictly. He would say, I will not talk to you about anything else besides this one thing I assigned you. I don’t want to hear about how great you are doing over here, just shut up, and Peter would run away. And then focus until you conquer this one problem. And the insight behind this is that most people will solve problems that they understand how to solve. Roughly speaking, they will solve B+ problems instead of A+ problems. A+ problems are high impact problems for your company but they are difficult. You don’t wake up in the morning with a solution, so you tend to procrastinate them. So imagine you wake up in the morning and create a list of things to do today, there’s usually the A+ one on the top of the list, but you never get around to it. And so you solve the second and third. Then you have a company of over a hundred people so it cascades. You have a company that is always solving B+ things which does mean you grow, which does mean you add value, but you never really create that breakthrough idea. No one is spending 100% of their time banging their head against the wall every day until they solve it. So I highly recommend some version of that. You can be less stringent, you can give people three things to work on, but I would still track the concept of what would happen if you only gave everybody one thing to prioritize.